Oh Deer: Wildlife Deterring Plants
By Shirley Martin
“What can I grow that the deer, moose and rabbits won’t eat?” Your ornamentals and food crops are intended for human enjoyment. You didn’t intend to invite bambi, afterall. There’s no such discernment among the hungry wild, though. So I’ve endeavoured to offer a list of deer, moose and rabbit resistant plants.
Allow me to insert a caveat here. If the deer, moose and rabbits are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything. That being said there are some plants that they tend to avoid or may only slightly damage while foraging for food.
Fragrant plants seem to be a deterrent to deer. Herbs such as rosemary, mint, oregano and thyme; annuals such as heliotrope, marigolds, alyssum all have fragrance that is uninviting to deer. Poisonous plants like foxglove, daffodils and poppies generally go untouched. Also, anything with furry leaves, spines (except for roses), bristly or coarse textures is unpalatable to them.
Rabbits and hares, on the other hand, are less discerning about what they’ll not eat, if they’re hungry enough. Tree bark, your favourite perennials, your vegetable garden are all fair game with rabbits. I find the worst time for rabbit damage is early spring. Just when your plants begin to leaf out, that’s when the rabbits can be found grazing on your buffet of greenery. Winter can also be bad for damage to the bark of your trees because there isn’t much they have access to. If you thought snow would protect your trees, think again. They will just perch on top and nibble at what they can reach. A trunk protection like a wrap is necessary if you experience this problem where you live.
Some plants that rabbits tend to leave alone are: euphorbia, black-eyed Susan, pincushion flower, perennial cranesbill (geranium), yarrow, bee balm (monarda), lupine, Virginia creeper, pachysandra, blue fescue and feather grass, and lungwort. Daffodils, crocus, iris and dahlias seem to be distasteful. Trees that usually are unscathed include: hawthorn, spruce, pine, oak and Douglas fir. They usually avoid Oregon grape, currant, gooseberry and juniper.
If you happen to live in an area with a moose population, you know how hungry they can be. There are some plants that should be unpalatable to them including: Norway maple, Scotch and Austrian pine, and white spruce, Norway spruce, ash, white birch, horse chestnut. Shrubs they tend to avoid include barberry, cotoneaster, forsythia, creeping juniper, Russian cypress, potentilla, elders, spirea, dwarf Alberta spruce. Perennials like monkshood, columbine, bergenia, foxglove, dianthus, bleeding hearts, yarrow, lamium, ligularia, bee balm, peony and lungwort are not on their menu.
One tip that I have found from several sources is to plant mint around plants that may be desirable to deer, rabbits and moose. The smell is highly deterrent to them. Keep in mind that mint can spread readily. If food is scarce, almost anything can become the food source for deer, moose and rabbits (hares). So after a particularly challenging season, maybe that 8 foot tall metal barrier fence is looking good.